“Just let me know if you need extra blankets for the daddy bed.” I smiled and responded, “thanks so much,” to the well-intentioned nurse as she left me alone with my first baby, Coleman, who had come into the world just a few hours earlier. My heart was full of so many different emotions and now, despite trying to ignore it and move on, slight disappointment crept in too. You see, there was no “daddy” to sleep in the hospital’s pull-out “daddy bed.” Coleman’s other parent is another mommy (or actually a “momma”) my partner of 12 years, Valerie. And the sweet nurse who had been there throughout my labor and during the delivery knew this. But gender roles and how things are “supposed” to be are often so engrained in folks; they aren’t able to adjust when someone or something different crosses their path. I knew the nurse accepted me and Val as Coleman’s parents. Seemingly, everyone we encountered at the hospital did. But old habits die hard and the constant reference to the “daddy” bed was one of several instances in the hospital when my stomach sank and I somehow felt “less-than.” Perhaps this feeling was never stronger than when I filled out the paperwork for Coleman’s birth certificate. In Virginia, only a mother and father can appear on a birth certificate as a child’s lawful parents. I filled out the paperwork as a single mother, as if Val didn’t exist, even as she sat two feet away rocking our new baby. To this day Valerie has no legal parental rights when it comes to our two children. Most days I feel pretty good about myself. I walk with my head held high and try to stay positive. I think many people imagine I am unflappable, but you might be surprised how often I am unexpectedly knocked off my game. I think it has to do with the nature of people and their need to “make sense” of the world. If something seems a little different or confusing, many people get anxious and feel compelled to squeeze that square peg into a round hole so they can calm their nerves and go on about their day. Valerie and I encounter this scenario more than we like to admit. It happens anywhere and everywhere. We’ve been shoe shopping and when exchanging a loving glance or helping each other pick out shoes, the salesperson will often glare at us uncomfortably and say “I wish I had a sister to shop with.” Does she really think we are sisters? I doubt it. But her brain wants to believe that so that is what comes out of her mouth. The most awkward situation in which we have ever found ourselves was when we were having our commitment ceremony ten years ago. A friend suggested we go talk to a local justice of the peace who was a sweet old man and whom they felt confident would understand our unique situation. We met with him one rainy day in June of 2002 and felt good about it. As we discussed our plan for our purely ceremonial wedding, we really felt that he got it. He even took our picture for his “wall of fame.” Then, as we were leaving, he said “but please make sure the groom is there on the day of the wedding.” He was dead serious. He didn’t get it. And we were back to square one. Being different is hard. It used to be more of a choice for us, since if someone didn’t “get it,” we could choose whether or not to correct them. More often than not it was easier to just move on. No harm, no foul. “Yes, dear salesperson, I too wish you had a sister. By the way, isn’t mine hot?” (Okay, just kidding about that last part.) But now that we have children (daughter Campbell followed Coleman 18 months later), it is no longer a choice. Denying our relationship or letting it go when someone gets it wrong would be to deny our family – something we simply can’t do. When you have two kiddos in tow, pretending you really are sisters so that the Steel Magnolias-era saleswoman’s head doesn’t explode is no longer an option. Teaching our children to live honest, authentic lives is paramount and as a result, Valerie and I get to live more honest, authentic lives! So the next time you see two men or two women doing something you might do with your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, stop and think. Maybe they too are girlfriends or boyfriends or husbands or wives. Don’t let your subconscious mind jam them into society’s idea of what they should be or what makes sense to you. Open your mind. Open your heart. Oh yeah – and if you are wondering who we got to marry us – a special angel stepped in. Her name is Lois Hornsby, she has a famous son, and she helped us find a special minister who made our day one we will never forget.